Written by: J.K. Rowling
Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Ezra Miller
Successful properties both critically and financially can be quite the goldmine for studios where even when they finish their story without a hitch, they cannot resist returning to the well. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them takes us back into the wizarding world of Harry Potter but done so without establishing any intriguing characters with such a wooden story.
In 1926, magiczoologist, Newt Scamander (Eddy Redmayne) arrives in New York City with a suitcase full of creatures he tends for. After a misunderstanding, some of his creatures are let loose in the city. As he tries to retrieve them without causing a raucous through the city, the Magical Congress of the United States continues their search for the host of the dangerous obscurus and the potential threat of Grindelwald.
A studio cannot ask for much more than the Harry Potter franchise provided to them. A fervent fanbase who have read all of the books along with the fanatics who simply adore the movies and the mythology it builds. Partly, I cannot blame them for wanting to go back to this world but of all the choices in directions to go in, they decided to follow a character known for writing a textbook found in one of the original movies. They deserve some respect for not just doing something typical like a prequel focusing on Dumbledore or Harry’s parents. Going with some outsider and barely mentioned character certainly had some promise but the final product showed a plot too unfocused and with concepts not coherently put together.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them gets split between Newt trying to find his beasts as the title indicates as well as the search for this obscurus. Certainly, the second search carries more weight considering the damage capable by the host but the film spends far too much time following Newt in his attempts to find these creatures of his. Some sequences create funny moments in showing how these beasts interact with regular humans, but it all feels trite compared to the big danger of the film. In search of Newt is Percival Graves (Colin Farrell), who hunts both the protagonist and this obscurus. A level of suspicion runs through this character throughout and while Farrell does well in this role I will never forgive J.K. Rowling for what she did at the end of the film with him. The revelation not only does not come with the intended surprise she wanted, but it also landed like a thud with who Graves becomes. Deflating and trite to say the least.
The revelation of Graves perhaps gets into the larger issue of this film, which comes with the screenplay written by the famous author of the original Harry Potter books, J.K. Rowling. With the success of the eight movies, she did not receive screenwriting credit although she certainly had heavy involvement in the production. With this film, she receives the sole writing credit and demonstrates that a good author does not necessarily make for a strong screenwriter. The two media require different forms of writing and while Rowling undoubtedly has proven herself in the literary world, she struggles with tying everything together in this film. She writes a fine character in Newt but everyone feels incredibly flat around him.
With the Harry Potter films taking place in England, this film brings the magic to the United States, which did produce some interesting looks as to how these two countries navigated with their wizards. A different culture, which begins the clash between Newt and the native wizards such as Tina (Katherine Waterston). Each country handles magic in a different way, which makes Newt a threat in the eyes of the Magical Congress of the United States. New York feels like a character in the story, even if it feels so bland by the color palette chosen to represent it.
Despite all of the issues this film contains, it still creates an interesting protagonist in Newt. He does not fall into the typical archetypes of a hero with his introversion. Redmayne does just enough with this character to never lose his appealing aspects but I did wish the character had more to do within his own story. The film feels far too bloated with trying to build this world that it forgot to firmly establish this character as the protagonist of this story.
A valiant but unfulfilled return to a popular franchise, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them checks some of the boxes but ultimately gets off to a rough start. Looking drab visually and far too busy for the lack of substance hidden within it, this story wants you to fear a cloud as some force, which is never a good sign. Certainly has some good bits within it to appreciate but overall must be classified as a disappointment.